Lipscomb coach Jeff Forehand sat alone in the dugout for several minutes of quiet reflection as rain clouds once again started to form.
In a game that required parts of two days to complete the Bisons, the No.2 seed, fell 7-4 to top-seeded Jacksonville Sunday afternoon here at Melching Field at Conrad Park. The Bisons came from behind last season to win the A-Sun Championship 10-9 against Gardner-Webb in 15 innings.
“That happened last year, but it doesn't happen very often,” said Forehand. “Jacksonville had the momentum at the end.
“I am proud of our players for getting to the championship game. It is sometimes harder to lose out in the championship game than it would be losing earlier in the tournament. It is never easy to lose a game when it is all on the line.”
This marked the first time since 1981 that the previous two Atlantic Sun Tournament Champions have met in the championship game. Lipscomb won in 2008 and Jacksonville won in 2007. In 1981 Mercer, the 1979 Champion played Georgia Southern, the 1980 Champion. It was also the first time since 2002 that the top two seeds battled for the championship.
The Bisons placed three players, pitcher Rex Brothers, first baseman Justin Sanders and right fielder Antonio Butler, on the A-Sun All-Tournament Team
“I just can't say enough about our team and how we battled,” said Forehand. “We battled all year long. We played a very, very tough schedule and took a lot of bumps to get ourselves into this position. We all look forward to trying to get back here next year.”
Junior right-hander Josh Smith, credited with the 5-4 win over East Tennessee State Saturday afternoon in the semifinals, started Saturday night, but the game was called in the top of the second with one runner on base for Jacksonville and two outs.
Smith was back on the mound when the game resumed. He lasted 5.1 innings. He gave up three runs, two earned, on two hits. He walked six and struck out six.
The Bisons struck first in the game. Lead-off hitter M.L. Williams was hit on the hand by a pitch from Jacksonville starter Carson Andrew. Allen Bolden followed with double to deep left field that scored Williams.
In the fourth Jacksonville tied the game at 1-1. Thomas Myers singled to right field to lead off the inning. Alex Martinez walked. Alex Swenson put down a sacrifice bunt to move both batters up a base.. Jamaal Hawkins also placed a sacrifice bunt to score Myers.
Jacksonville took a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning. Glen Johnson opened the inning with a walk. Chuck Opachich flied out to shortstop Branden Cadavid. Kyle Fleming lined a single to left center to send Johnson to third. Jeremy Gillan hit a sacrifice fly to right field to bring Johnson home.
In the sixth Jacksonville added another run as Opachich hit a hard grounder through the left side of the field to score Martinez who had reached base on when Smith hit him with a pitch. Senior right-hander Kyle Tognazzini relieved Smith and pitched out of a bases loaded jam with only the one run scoring.
“Smitty gave us more than I could have ever asked for,” said Forehand. “Togs came in and we squelched their scoring opportunities in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings with them just getting one run.”
Sanders trimmed the lead back to one when he slammed a solo home run more than 335 feet over the left field fence to open the inning. It was the 12th home run of the season for Sanders. Andrew then walked Tennyson Dodd and was replaced by left-hander Matt Tomshaw.
Tomshaw then hit both Ryan Wilkins and Logan Hostettler to load the bases. Jacksonville went to the bullpen and brought in right-hander Sean Green.
Dodd scored from third with tying run when Tyler Wilson hit a grounder to Jacksonville's shortstop, who tossed the ball to the second baseman to force Hostettler.
After Green walked Antonio Butler he was replaced by left-hander Kyle Kriech who also faced a bases-loaded situation.
Wilkins gave the Bisons a 4-3 lead. Bolden went to first base on a call of catcher's interference on a swing by Bolden.
Jacksonville tied the game in the seventh when Myers blasted a solo shot to left center that cleared the scoreboard.
With two outs in the seventh Ryan Wilkins lined a triple to left center that bounced to the wall.
Jacksonville decided to bring in right-hander Matt Loosen. Hostettler lined to shortstop to end the inning.
Junior right-hander Matt Bowling relieved Tognazzini with one out and one runner on base in the eighth. Chris Connelly reached base with a line drive single to right to open the inning. He went to second when Glen Johnson grounded out to first. Bowling forced the first batter he faced to fly to right and the next batter grounded out to second to end the inning.
Bowling returned to the mound in the ninth. After forcing Gillan, the lead-off hitter, to pop up to first, he walked Myers and then gave up a two-run homer to Martinez over the left field fence. Right-hander Brandon McClurg entered the game . Senior right-hander Charles Williams hit Opachich with a pitch to bring in Hawkins with the third run of the inning.
The Bisons had five hits off of five Jacksonville pitchers.
“The guy just hit a pitch off of Matt,” said Forehand. “It is one of those things and it gave them the momentum.
“Hats off to Jacksonville. They are good team. They played well and got the hits when they needed them.”
Bowling was given the loss, finishing the season 1-2. Loosen, 4-1, was credited with the win for Jacksonville.
Tognazzini gave up four hits and one run, while striking out two, in two innings. Bowling threw 1.1 innings and gave up three runs while walking three. McClurg walked one batter. Charles Williams closed out the game pitching one-third of an inning.
The Bisons ended the season with a 24-32 record. Jacksonville, 36-20, advances to the NCAA Regional.